Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Massive broadcast merger between Sinclair, Tribune has many worried about propaganda

The Sinclair-Tribune merger would bypass the congressional cap set at 39 percent, but because of an FCC loophole, only a portion of Sinclair’s current stations are considered in the count.

Image Credit: Deadspin

A major network merger is in the works. Sinclair Broadcast Group is waiting approval to merger with Tribune Media, which would add 42 stations to its 193 in major hubs like New York and Chicago and would give Sinclair a forum in 72 percent of U.S. household.

Sinclair owns television stations including several Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates throughout the U.S.

The $3.9 billion takeover, which was announced in May 2017, would bypass the congressional cap set at 39 percent because of an FCC loophole as of recent. The “UHF discount,” which was eliminated in September 2016 by Democrats but just reinstated in April, allows Sinclair to under count its stations.

Ajit Pai, a Trump-appointed Republican and FCC Chairman, is being accused by many Democrats “for supporting TV ownership rule changes that would make it easier for the merger to pass regulatory scrutiny” and requests were made for the FCC inspector general to investigate into whether Pai is “inappropriately” assisting Sinclair, USA Today reported.

If the merger is approved, Sinclair would have “unparalleled control over local TV stations across the country,” C|Net reported.

While a merger between AT&T and Time Warner was recently controversially blocked by the Trump administration, many experts believe the Sinclair-Tribune merger to be uncontested “based on the political leanings of their content,” Digg reported.

The conservative-leaning broadcast company is known for producing content from their central network Circa and distributing it to Sinclair’s local stations throughout the U.S., labeling the content as “must-run” segments that don’t necessarily reflect that community’s views. Some of the “must-run” segments include a daily “terrorism alert” and most recently a “fake news” segment, which forced local news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”

Sinclair is calling the new initiative, “anchor delivered journalistic responsibility messages,” according to an unnamed broadcast journalist at a locally-owned Sinclair news station. And many journalists are “uncomfortable” with the often politically biased and corporate-produced content.

But Sinclair’s identical, politically motivated scripts aren’t something new, which John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, pointed out in 2017:

While it’s believed that Sinclair focuses on running “seemingly pro-Trump segments,” the Donald Trump and Sinclair relationship dates back to 2016.

During the presidential campaign, it’s been confirmed that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and now senior White House adviser, struck a deal with Sinclair that gave the group more in depth access to Trump’s campaign in exchange for pro-Trump broadcasting. Sinclair was responsible for broadcasting Trump interviews throughout the U.S. without commentary and therefore, the Trump campaign was able to reach a broader audience in many swing states compared to other networks. Sinclair reputed the claim saying it offered the same deal to the Hillary Clinton campaign, but it was declined.

In that same year, Sinclair and it’s executives gave $300,000 in campaign donations to Republicans during the presidential election, compared to $120,000 donated to Democrats, according to Digg.

Many say the Sinclair-Tribune merger will allow the group to continue to broadcast “one sided news stories plaguing our country” to a broader audience in an attempt to “use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’”

Amy McGrath, a Democratic candidate for the state’s sixth congressional district, announced she was pulling her campaign advertisement from a locally-owned Sinclair station in Lexington. Ky., because of the “right-wing script” that “eerily mimics the propaganda efforts that authoritarian regimes often use to control the media in their own country.”

Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News broadcast journalist, tweeted his concerns about the script as well.

Sinclair defended itself after the Deadspin video went viral saying in an effort to address the spread of fake news such as the “Pope Endorses Trump” fake news story and the “Pizzagate” conspiracy story – both stories broke before the 2016 presidential election – can have “potentially dangerous consequences.”

“It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable,” Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, said. “Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”

Trump also defended the broadcast group in a tweet.

The Sinclair-Tribune merger is currently under review by the FCC.

“Sinclair is now well-known for its history of abusing public trust to air right-wing spin and promote xenophobia on local news shows,” Media Matters for America, an liberal media activist group, said in a statement.

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